Saturday, August 09, 2008

When the jails fill up

Harris County Texas has overflowing jails. They've been overcrowded to the extent of becoming a constitutional violation for decades. When I was teaching at Sam Houston State in the early 90's I did some work on a jail/prison population forecasting project ("Techniques for Forecasting an Urban Jail Population During Periodsof Policy Disequilibrium", presentation to Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 12, 1992, with C. M. Friel and Disaggregated Forecasts of the Harris County Jail Population: 1992-1997. Prepared for Commissioners Court, Harris County Texas, May 1991, 1-114, with C. M. Friel and M. Bodapati.)

Back then they were blaming the overcrowding conditions on state prison policy.

But the State of Texas has fixed their prison population problems (to some extent) and Harris County is still with overcrowded jails. Much of the jail population is detainees -- people who have not been convicted of a crime but just can't make bail. Judges could move to reduce bail requirements to relieve overcrowding.

But that would be easy. And cheap. Better to just contract with out of state jails to house them. That way they are far enough away from friends and family so that we can be sure they won't be able to make bail. Gives them incentive to plead guilty to save the county the trouble of actual trials.

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